Darryll Holland does not have to look far for inspiration as a jockey hoping to rekindle his career in Britain by returning to his roots. Frankie Dettori’s resurgence with John Gosden, capped by the brilliant performances of Golden Horn, was the standout story of the 2015 Flat season.
Holland, 43, has come back to Blighty from recent stints in South Korea and Mauritius to join forces with Charlie Hills, whose father Barry first spotted the potential in a kid from Manchester in the late 1980s.
His failure to land the riding championship may rankle with the man himself yet he can look back with pride at his achievements
“Darryll had never sat on a horse before he came to the yard but he was riding within a few months,” Hills senior recalls. “It took him about two minutes to discover he was good. He should have been champion jockey.”
‘The Dazzler’s’ failure to land the riding championship may rankle with the man himself, yet he can look back with pride at his achievements. The champion apprentice in 1991 with a record number of winners, Holland finished runner-up to Kieren Fallon in 2003 and has secured six centuries, partnering Group 1 winners for the likes of Luca Cumani, Clive Brittain, Mark Johnston, William Haggas, Mick Channon, David Nicholls and Jeremy Noseda.
However his seasonal tally had dropped to 30 by 2010 and after two further disappointing campaigns, the rider adopted the ‘have saddle, will travel’ mentality and departed for foreign challenges.
Now Holland is back, with a yard very much on the up that houses around 200 well-bred horses for some of the biggest owners in the sport. He thinks his experience will give him an edge this year.
“You can’t buy it,” he tells Julian Muscat (The Big Interview, pages 42-46), “and I have a lot of it. A small mistake here and there makes the difference between winning and losing, so I have to make it count. I really want to make the most of the next few years. I feel I’ve still got a bit to offer in the saddle.”
Ruby Walsh again proved there is no substitute for experience at Cheltenham as the Irishman recorded his 50th Festival success in March. The outstanding jump jockey – perhaps the best there has ever been – notched an opening-day treble for trainer Willie Mullins and owner Rich Ricci, whose colours have quickly become a fixture at jump racing’s Olympics.
While the brilliant performances of Annie Power, Vautour, Vroum Vroum Mag and Limini underlined Ricci’s phenomenal array of talent, he also lost two promising young horses in Long Dog and Pont Alexandre, both Grade 1 winners. They will be missed by National Hunt fans and at Mullins’s stable in Closutton.
Kerry Lee only had one runner at Cheltenham but the trainer is sure to be busier at Aintree, when she will look to put the icing on her superb first season with a licence in the Grand National, with Bishops Road and Mountainous looking her prime contenders.
At the time of writing, Lee had saddled 21 winners from 95 runners, an excellent strike-rate of 22%, and she tells Tim Richards (Talking To, pages 54-59) about her approach to training at her Herefordshire stable and hopes for the future.
Also looking to the future is Robert ‘Choc’ Thornton, the popular former jump jockey who is now hoping to breed champion racehorses in his new guise as stud manager at Paul Dunkley’s Apple Tree Stud.
The man who partnered 1,129 winners, including 15 at the Cheltenham Festival, talks to Catherine Austen (pages 48-52) about his new challenge and why he doesn’t miss riding.
“The amazing thing I’ve found – and I didn’t realise it at all when I was riding – is that now I have a life,” Thornton says. “I can do things that I never could because I was so tied to racing. Until I broke my arm really badly in March 2013, I hadn’t been on holiday for more than three or four days since I was 16. Even getting the car serviced when you are racing every day is a huge deal – now I can just ring up and book it in!”